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Director Guillermo del Toro Discusses 'Pacific Rim'

With Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day

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Guillermo del Toro and Charlie Hunnam at Warner Bros Pictures' 'Pacific Rim' press conference

Guillermo del Toro and Charlie Hunnam at Warner Bros Pictures' 'Pacific Rim' press conference

© Rebecca Murray

If you weren't fortunate enough to make it into the Warner Bros panel at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con, then you'll have to wait until late 2012 to see footage from director Guillermo del Toro's next film, Pacific Rim. Comic Con veteran/fan favorite del Toro unveiled the first brief look at what audiences can expect from his giant monsters versus robots film at the Con, wowing the crowd once again with his unique storytelling vision.

Following the presentation, Guillermo del Toro joined his Pacific Rim actors Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Rinko Kikuchi, and Charlie Day to talk about the epic sci-fi-action adventure which is heading to theaters on July 12, 2013.

Guillermo del Toro, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Rinko Kikuchi Pacific Rim Press Conference

Is it weird crossing paths with Peter Jackson again, and have you kept in touch?

Guillermo del Toro: "I was sending him emails from Pacific Rim. We’ve been emailing a lot during the prep of The Hobbit. I sent him a photo of me with a guy who looked exactly like him in the beginning of Pacific Rim. Then the two productions were at peak and we hadn’t talked in a long time. We stayed at touch and we haven’t seen each other here. I went to the tech rehearsal yesterday at 10 and he came to a tech rehearsal at 11 something. Probably I’ll run into him this afternoon."

Charlie Hunnam: "I wanted to see if we could organize a rumble with our cast against his cast. No one was going for it."

Ron Perlman: "I decided I’d take on all the hobbits."

With the reception from Comic Con attendees, were you looking to raise the bar of your own work higher?

Guillermo del Toro: "With the movie, yes. You have to take into account that what we were able to show, we were shooting 12 weeks ago. The way I shoot is I shoot and edit at the same time. They know this. The day after I come in and it’s edited no matter how complicated it is. That allowed me to start picking some shots to prepare for Comic Con. None of the shots were final final the way they’re going to be in the movie. We still have to torture people a little bit more about flares and drops in the lens.

To me, this movie was a big, big growth for me as director. It represented the chance of, in the same way Pan’s Labyrinth represented the chance to do something in the Spanish language that I tried before but I wanted to show what I could do with more support and freedom, to me Pacific Rim represented that on another scale. As a director, I concentrate on things I felt personally I needed to improve from the other films and concentrate on things I hadn’t tried. I shot the movie very differently in many ways, but with the same philosophy and visual style. It was a huge experience, the best I’d had on any film set in all my life. I enjoyed absolutely every moment and these guys were a big part of it."

Rinko Kikuchi: "Awwww."

Charlie and Ron, you star in Sons of Anarchy and co-star in the Frankie Go Boom and this. What do you enjoy about working together.

Charlie Hunnam: "Thankfully I didn’t have to make out with Ron in this one, which was a dramatic improvement from Frankie Go Boom. It’s wonderful. You go through this business and meet people you bond with. You get to go and make movies with them. It’s wonderful. It’s kind of what I’ve always dreamt of in my career, to have like a brotherhood of collaborators and go in and out of working with them together, and I'm just starting to get that. It’s really lovely. Right, Ron?"

Ron Perlman: "I don’t feel that way at all. No, I mean Charlie was the one who brought me into Frankie Go Boom, asked me if I would read the script and I thought it was the funniest thing I’d read in 25 years. As everyone here knows, I’ve always felt that I was a woman trapped inside of a man’s body, so here was my opportunity to finally prove how wrong I was. It wasn’t the first time I was wrong, it certainly won’t be the last."

What personality trait of your characters will audiences latch onto?

Charlie Day: "I want to go back to something you said before. I appreciate greatly that he said this is your best experience that you’ve had working with a cast, but there’s something twisted in that because you tortured the f*ck out of us."

Guillermo del Toro: "That’s true. But that’s part of my enjoyment."

Charlie Day: "I guess I think Guillermo has made a movie here where we’re saving the world, it’s one of those saving the world films and it’s epic and grand on an action scale. You need big tough guys and strong guys and you need the people you believe could fight and save the world. Then, in the case of my guy, you think, 'How is the sort of everyman who doesn’t seem like he can fight his way out of a paper bag, how is that guy going to contribute?' If anything that people latch onto my character is how flawed he is in his attempts to help save the world, really."

Ron Perlman: "I will always remember to my grave that Hannibal Chow, the name of my character, was only ever on screen with Charlie Day, his character, Newt Gottlieb. I didn’t know his name was Gottlieb, I would’ve treated him completely differently. But I knew that he was Newt and we had a really great time just bouncing off of each other and creating things. I’m a black marketeer in this film. I have this relationship with the powers that be whereby I have the rights to all of these fallen monsters to sell on the black market to rich people who have way too much money and are looking to collect rare and exotic strange sh*t. So I have no morality. I have no moral compass. I have no scruples whatsoever."

Guillermo del Toro: "But a lot of flair."

Ron Perlman: "I’m just a profiteer. In this case a war profiteer, but the war is not among countries, it’s a war against time for all of humanity."

Charlie Hunnam: "It’s a little easier for me. I play a guy called Raleigh who, in this world that Guillermo’s created, was a super soldier that pilots these giant robots. Where you meet me in the beginning of the story, I’ve suffered a giant loss. Not only has it killed my sense of self-worth but also my will to fight and to keep on going. Then Rinko and a couple other people bring me out of retirement to try to help in this grand push.

I think that that journey is a very relatable one. I think everybody, at some point in their life, has fallen down and not felt like getting back up, but you have to no matter how difficult it is. I think that’s something that’s pretty easily relatable to audiences. I hope, because the film’s going to be f*cked if it isn’t. Right, Rinko?"

Rinko Kikuchi: "Yup. My role, she’s a young Japanese student and then her dream is to be a pilot. And that’s it for now."

Guillermo del Toro: "No, we can say more. What was great is the character of Rinko is [the] same as Charlie's and had a big fall. They both lost a lot in the past and when they meet, one of the ideas in the script is that two people who are really, really hurt can become one, both in the realm of metaphorically or in life. They meet with their two empty pieces and connect almost like a puzzle."

Rinko Kikuchi: "We have a [connection]."

This has been compared to a Godzilla movie. What inspired this film?

Guillermo del Toro: "I wouldn’t compare it to a Godzilla film. I think that what it is, there are two subgenres that are very popular and very powerful in Japan. One is the kaiju and the other is the giant robot subgenre. Occasionally they mix together, mostly on TV series, but on film I thought these were things that were part of my nutritional makeup growing up. I literally was raised watching these movies.

One of the things I made clear to my designers, every head of department, was we should not reference other movies. We should not re-watch Gamera or re-watch Gojira or re-watch War of the Gargantuans because we love them. So we felt, 'Let’s create the world that we’re doing. It falls in here and falls in there, but we should not be doing a referential film.' If things happen, they happen because they’re being made by people who love those genres. But I didn’t want to be postmodern or referential or just belong to a genre. I wanted to create something new, something very, very mad, madly in love with those things. The footage you see I tried to bring epic beauty to it and drama and operatic grandeur. It happens in many of the battles, many of the quirks are going to be executed a different way than you normally would. I cannot say because I would be spoiling stuff; it’s a year away but there are things in the movie that I’m the proudest of I’ve ever been. Part of that is because of the way it was designed, thought of by Callum Greene, and the things are not executed the way you necessarily think they would be. You think of an action film and I always imagine a huge Mission Impossible movie with Tom Cruise and all of a sudden you see the scene from the point of view of the janitor sweeping the floors and, poof, something passes. That’s the kind of stuff I wanted to see, where can I go, 'What point of view could I take that was not oh, this is what they do in those films?' But from creating a new world. I wanted it to be a movie I was proud of on its own."

Is there a name for the giant robots?

Guillermo del Toro: "They’re called Jaegers. Each of them comes from a different country. We have Cherno Alpha, which is a Russian robot. Crimson Typhoon, which is a Chinese robot and so on and so forth. They each have a name and they are as much characters as the pilots. I wanted each robot to have a personality and for you to feel when they get hurt or when the robot wins. I wanted very much to be able to make the audience feel for those machines as much as they feel for the other characters. Frankly, also for the kaiju. There are very unexpected things that have to do with the kaijus. The kaijus and jaegers were both designed as characters."

Charlie Hunnam: "When I found out the spirit of the Jaeger that we pilot together, it coincided coincidentally with a subcategory of society that I’ve been obsessed with my whole life. When I found out, we can’t give it away, but this is the name of the Jaeger and this is what its spirit was, I felt in a grandiose moment that it felt like it was almost destiny for me to be playing this guy. You’ll see when you see the film, the spirit of this robot is something I admired and at periods of my life tried to emulate. That was a really beautiful coincidence, or not - as the case may be."

Guillermo del Toro: "Also, the pilots name their robots very much depending on where they come from. The American robot has nose art like the WWII planes. The bombers name their planes. There’s an affection and there’s a plausibility to the robots. We spent so much time doing the signage, when you see the robot you’ll see them move and you’ll see the mass, but between the mass, you’ll see so many little parts doing the work. We designed them as practical machines. We didn’t design them as something that we just put bullsh** moving. We went in and said, 'This is where they refuel them, this is where they put the new cells.' You can see all the port markings as if it were a giant helicopter. We took a lot of reference from giant machines. We took photographs of the most massive airplanes, ships, some airplanes that are so massive that they never took off. We took all those stills from real machines, and part of that was giving them names like pilots give to their ships."

Who is most nervous about spoiling secrets from the film?

Ron Perlman: [raises hand]

Charlie Hunnam: "I second that."

Guillermo del Toro: "If you buy a beer for Perlman, you’ll get all the secrets."

Ron Perlman: "I’m in room 1520."

Charlie Hunnam: "If Ron had read the script, we’d be in real trouble."

Guillermo del Toro: "No, we’re not nervous about that. I just think it’s important for a world that we try to make fresh to stay fresh for a long time and not kill it with love. So contrary to everything I’ve ever done, I was not talking about this movie. Normally I’m the guy I’d be more nervous about in any project to spill any beans, but I think it’s important that we can graduate the introduction to this world slowly, but in a way that in a year from now makes it more enjoyable.

Ron Perlman: I haven’t seen the movie. I’m just listening like a fanboy to both the panel and now to this, but it seems like you can’t give away the movie. We know it’s monsters and robots. The nuance is in the nuances and the del Toro sensibility of taking the best of mankind and these monsters and trying to figure out which one is which. Because very often in his movies as I’ve come to find out, what is most monstrous is embodied in mankind, and what is most beautiful is in these things that are designated as unacceptable. Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect example of this upside down designation. So I think we could talk about Pan’s Labyrinth till the cows come home but you’re never going to be able to describe the experience of seeing it, because it had so much to do with his personal vision and point of view about the universe."

Guillermo del Toro: "You should still keep quiet."

Ron Perlman: "But I’m still in room 1520."

How did you approach the practical element vs CGI?

Guillermo del Toro: "If you see my movies, the times I take CGI ... and Pan’s Labyrinth contains a lot of CGI for example, so do the Hellboy movies ... There’s a school of thought on CGI where you do an impossible camera move every time and everything is sleek and clear and beautiful. I do exactly the opposite. I dirty it. If you saw in the advance we showed, there’s drops of oil, there’s streams of oil in the lens, there’s drops of water in the lens, there’s dirt. in some instances I even scratch the glass on the virtual lens, so you can have refractions of a lens that has gone through a lot of time in battle. You get a sense of all those defects. Even as early as Mimic, I have to have a real element that makes the things make contact with the plate. If the monster hits a puddle of mud, I want that mud to really bounce off the ground and stuff like that.

In the case of Pacific Rim, we really built a lot of stuff that was oversized and difficult but in order to bring that tactile effect, I told this before but for example we build a whole street of Tokyo and rigged it with pneumatic shockers, so every time the monster took a step, the whole street would vibrate. The cars would jump, the walls would shake, the lampposts would shake and the air conditioning units would fall. Normally if we weren’t doing the hard job, those would be digital. But also it’s about making the plate seem to exist in a world that’s hard to shoot. So the camera, instead of doing an impossible move around this and how cool my move is, I tell my guys at ILM, 'Come back to the same shot. Nobody does that normally in CG. Every shot is great, every shot is new.' I tell them, 'Come back to the same master, the same thing over as if we were shooting this fight for real and we needed to use the same angle. Don’t always do the operation of the camera so smooth. Miss the punch. Instead of oh what a great punch, miss the punch. Be late for the monster breaking the building. I know we’re spending so much money on breaking the building. Come back three seconds later so we can keep the reality.' The dirtier the effect the more real. That is in play in Pan’s Labyrinth, so that same philosophy comes into this one."

Rinko, do you fight in Pacific Rim and did you do any physical training?

Rinko Kikuchi: "It’s really hard for me to act with English lines, also I have a lot of action scenes with Charlie. Then also I’ve been training for many months, weight lifting, running, then stick fighting. It was really hard but I really think I’m so happy and I’m so lucky to get this role. And then also when I was on set, I just want to see Guillermo happy. When I was a little girl I used to watch monster movies or sci-fi films and also I’m a big fan of his work. It’s like a dream come true. I give him my best."

Guillermo del Toro: "And she kicked all the guys ass. One of the things I can say is we built the cockpit of the robots in the head. It’s almost three stories high and we mounted it on hydraulic shakers so that every time they get hit, you would really hit. I wanted to do it with the actors. I didn’t want to do it with the doubles."

Charlie Hunnam: [Laughing] "Why not? Why not? Let’s just do it with the actors because they’re better, right? And they deserve it."

Guillermo del Toro: "I had three cameras. But the first time they were in, Charlie came to visit the first group of actors, I won’t say who they were, he goes, 'Babies. Cry babies.' And then he went in. This machine, which is the interface between the robot and them, it flows with their bodies. It was a huge engineering feat. It was real. We could’ve done it CG but why? Why do that? We did it. Every guy broke. Every guy broke. The only one that never complained was Rinko."

Charlie Hunnam: "I’ll be fine. Five years of physio. My doctor says I’ll be fine by about 2017."

Now that Prometheus is out, is it really so similar to Mountains of Madness that you can’t do it?

Guillermo del Toro: "I haven’t seen it because I’m so afraid. I’m going to go see it because I want to see it as a fan. I go to the theater, I almost got my ticket and I go, 'I’ll see it a little later.' But I’ll see it. I promise I’ll see it eventually."

Are you still working on an anthology series for cable?

Guillermo del Toro: "I was trying. We’re still... It’s taken so long because literally I was thinking of doing it right after the feature project I was doing which was Mountains, but Mountains collapsed then we went [to Pacific Rim], so everything else was pushed, other than the things that publicly we developed and they’re keeping their course. That was a wish list thing. I’m still selecting stories because I want to do famous ghost stories."

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